Friday, June 29, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: My Favorite Spider-Man

Look for my retro review of the 2002 Spider-Man flick to be posted tomorrow, but in the meantime I thought I'd use this week's Nostalgia Theater to reminisce about one of my Spidery faves. During his amazing fifty year webspin through our pop cultural history, Spider-Man has been a remarkably consistent presence in animation, headlining an impressive eight shows, from his first 'toon in the late '60s (known today for its iconic "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.." theme music) to the just-launched Ultimate Spider-Man on DisneyXD. 

With that many shows spanning that many decades, its understandable that each has its fans (though, granted, it doesn't seem like very many folks like Ultimate). For me, Spidey in animation doesn't get any better than a little-seen offering that few realize even exists. The first entry from the then-new Marvel Productions, the animation studio started up in 1980, Spider-Man debuted in syndication in September of '81. Having watched it at exactly the right moment in my life to permanently imprint on my psyche, this will always be my definitive take on how Spider-Man (voiced here by actor Ted Schwartz) should sound.

Check out the intro below:

I recently re-watched the series with my boys, and I was amazed how the decades since I first saw it simply washed away. Every line-reading, every music cue, every episode, was burnt into my brain pan. Sure, it can seem kitschy and quaint after three decades of advances in animation, but what the 1981 'toon did masterfully was to perfectly represent the character as he existed at that time, with character designs that were absolutely spot-on to the work of definitive Spider-Man artist John Romita. This wasn't Spider-Man reinterpreted, or Spider-Man with a twist. It was just Spider-Man, and that was enough.

As an entrée into the broader Marvel Comics universe, there was just no better mechanism than this. Over the course of its twenty-six episodes, we saw our hapless hero squaring off with his usual rogues' gallery including Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, Mysterio, Sandman, the Green Goblin, and others. There was even a multi-episode arc revolving around all-star Marvel baddie Doctor Doom. One of the finest installments was episode 18, "The Capture of Captain America," which had Spidey teaming with Marvel's patriotic hero against his arch-nemesis, the Red Skull:

The 1981 Spider-Man debuted at the same time that the more well-known Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends also premiered on NBC's Saturday morning lineup, and was swiftly overshadowed by it. Although that show, which paired Spidey with the X-Men's Iceman and original character Firestar, utilized voiceover artist Dan Gilvezan (late Bumblebee on the 1980s' Transformers) as Peter Parker, it used the same design sheets and background music as the other series, and was ostensibly a part of the same continuity. 
Here's the first ep:

Funsure, but the qualitative difference is noticeable all the same.

Amazing Friends actually ran for two less episodes than its syndicated sibling, but those twenty-four episodes were spaced out over three seasons (and reruns continued to air on NBC for several more years), so they're remembered by more people. While neither of the 1981 Spider-Man shows are available on DVD stateside, they can be watched instantly on Netflix. I have fond memories of both, but in hindsight, it's the solo Spider-Man from '81 that was the superior product. It's a shame that it's been overlooked for so long.

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